<
>

Dr. Larry Nassar pleads guilty to sexual assault charges, apologizes in court

play
Nassar pleads guilty to sexual assault charges (1:51)

John Barr joins OTL to explain the latest on Dr. Larry Nassar's deal to plead guilty to first-degree criminal sexual conduct. (1:51)

LANSING, Mich. -- A former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State doctor pleaded guilty Wednesday to using his position of authority to sexually assault girls and young women who came to see him for medical care.

Larry Nassar, 54, repeated his plea of "guilty" for seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in a crowded district courtroom Wednesday morning. Each offense will come with a minimum of 25 to 40 years of prison time and a maximum of a life sentence.

"For all those involved, I'm so horribly sorry," Nassar said. "This is a match that turned into a forest fire, out of control. I pray the rosary every day for forgiveness. I want them to heal. ... I just want healing. It's time."

"For all those involved I'm so horribly sorry. This is a match that turned into a forest fire, out of control. I pray the rosary every day for forgiveness. I want them to heal ... I just want healing. It's time."

Larry Nassar

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina told Nassar that he used his power as a doctor in "the most vile way possible, to abuse children" and said he has a "lifetime behind bars" to consider his actions.

One of Nassar's victims, Larissa Boyce, who was part of a youth gymnastics program held at MSU, called Nassar's "healing" comment "a manipulation tactic."

"It felt like a manipulation tactic that he was saying, 'I'm doing this for you guys. I'm doing this so you can start healing and the community can start healing.' It felt like part of his manipulation tactics. I think it's absolutely ridiculous on his part," she said.

Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to accuse Nassar publicly in September 2016, said she would like to see Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics held criminally accountable for ignoring the warning signs that Nassar was a sexual predator. She and several others asked the attorney general's office to further investigate the university and the FBI to further investigate USA Gymnastics.

"The culture of enabling is absolutely vital to why pedophiles flourish," Denhollander said. "You don't get someone like Larry Nassar, you don't get a pedophile who is able to abuse without there being a culture surrounding him putting him in that place. Until we deal with the enablers this is going to continue to happen."

She and other victims who were present at court Wednesday are angry that Michigan State has decided not to share the details of an investigation into how university officials acted in Nassar's case. Denhollander said she would also like to see state legislators make stronger laws to punish enablers and institutions that turn a blind eye to abuse. Lisa Lorincz, the mother of one of Nassar's victims, said she has reached out to Michigan's senators in the past weeks to ask for their help in making tougher laws but hasn't yet received any response.

"As they have done before, today the plaintiffs' attorneys have made accusations against the university claiming it is engaged in a 'cover up of misconduct by university administrators.' The university unequivocally denies this accusation," Michigan State spokesman Jason Cody said Wednesday.

"Moreover, MSU has consistently promised if it were to find any employee knew of and acquiesced in Nassar's misconduct, the university would immediately report it to law enforcement. As for the call for an independent investigation, the FBI and MSU Police Department conducted a joint investigation earlier this year to determine whether any university employee other than Nassar engaged in criminal conduct. The results of that investigation were sent to the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan.

"We have no reason to believe that any criminal conduct was found. Michigan State University continues to be shocked and appalled by Larry Nassar's now-admitted criminal conduct. Any suggestion that the university covered up this conduct is simply false."

The plea deal stipulates that any victims who have registered a complaint with police or were identified as potential witnesses in his case can provide victim-impact statements in court before the judge determines Nassar's sentence. That sentencing procedure is scheduled to begin Jan. 12 and may take several days.

Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis said that all of the victims -- more than 125 in total -- were contacted about the plea deal to seek their feedback before the state agreed to those terms.

"All are in agreement with the plea agreement," Povilaitis said in court. "Many are ecstatic and very relieved with this agreement."

Nassar's attorneys, Matthew Newburg and Shannon Smith, said in a statement that the plea agreement "was reached after extensive negotiations with the prosecution and with significant input" from their client and "resolves all the charged and uncharged conduct for more than 125 cases currently under investigation by the Michigan Attorney General's office."

Nassar was charged earlier this year with 22 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, each of which comes with a maximum sentence of life in prison if he would have gone to trial and been found guilty. Fifteen of those counts came in Ingham County, where Michigan State is located. Seven counts come from neighboring Eaton County, where Nassar used to see patients at his home and at a youth gymnastics facility called Twistars.

Nassar and his attorneys previously said that Nassar's actions -- penetrating his patients by putting his finger into their vaginas -- were part of a legitimate medical treatment. As part of the plea agreement, they withdrew that claim. Aquilina asked Nassar directly whether his actions were not for any medical reason. He sighed before saying, "Correct."

Nassar also pleaded guilty to federal child pornography charges in July. The former doctor possessed more than 37,000 illegal images that were discovered on a hard drive inside a curbside trash barrel when police searched Nassar's home more than a year ago. He'll be sentenced for those crimes on Dec. 7. The federal charges are expected to carry a minimum sentence of 27 years.

More than 140 women have since sued Nassar in civil lawsuits alleging that he abused them, mostly during appointments for medical treatment. Those lawsuits also name Michigan State, USA Gymnastics and specific employees from both institutions as defendants for alleged negligence during the quarter century that they say Nassar was preying on young women. He was fired from USA Gymnastics in 2015 and Michigan State in 2016.

The long list of women accusing Nassar includes several high-profile former U.S. Olympians. Medalists Jamie Dantzscher, McKayla Maroney, Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman have all publicly accused Nassar of assaulting them.

A U.S. Olympic Committee spokesperson Mark Jones said the organization is "disgusted that these acts occurred, heartbroken for the victims'' and "proud of their courage for confronting this tragedy.''

ESPN's John Barr contributed to this report.